Thursday, August 05, 2010

"Have no fear, little flock..."

In preparing for this upcoming Sunday's reading where Jesus calms his hearers with those beautiful words, "Have no fear little flock," I was pondering both David Lose's exegesis over at Working Preacher where he talks about promise. Lose writes:
But Jesus does not simply hold out faith as a model and goal, much less as a standard by which to judge us. Rather, Jesus creates faith by announcing a promise: Like a parent loves her children deeply and desperately and wants all good things for them, so also is it God's good pleasure to give God's children the kingdom. Promises create a shared expectation about the future and bind together the giver and receiver of the promise in that shared anticipation. Promises create relationship. Promises create hope. Promises create faith. All of our instruction about the Christian life - whether about prayer, money, watchfulness, care of neighbor, and more - are therefore anchored in the gospel promise that it is, indeed, God's good pleasure to give us the kingdom. Remembering - indeed, exalting in - this promise enables us not only to have faith, but to answer Peter's question: is Jesus saying this to us or to everyone? Yes!
My mind turned to a short book by Robert Jenson that I found at some used book sale (almost surely at a seminary book sale, if so then almost certainly at LTSS, but maybe not... I seriously cannot remember where I find all of my used books). In this book, Jenson works to talk about the story of God and help make the promise that God is making in the midst of that story. Primarily then it is a promise rooted in who this Jesus is and what the Kingdom has to do with it all. Since Jesus' words this week specifically point to the promise that it is the Father's good pleasure to give us the Kingdom, I have found Jenson's ideas to be particularly helpful, especially in conjunction with Lose's reflection. Promise does indeed change things. More importantly, Jesus' promise changes things, transforms lives by God's action. Particularly when Jesus' promise of God's pleasure in giving us the Kingdom is followed up with some rather difficult imperatives "Sell your possessions. Give alms. Be ready." The promise, as always is key.
We regulate our relations with our fellows by what they have been; if a teenager is hooked on dope, we do not encourage our children to make him a friend. Jesus did the opposite: he brought his fellows into his life not in terms of what they had been, but of what they would be. And not in terms of what it could be predicted they would be, on the basis of a "little bit of good in everyone" or of what he planned to reform them to, but in terms of what they could be only by God's miracle. He enacted God's future as his brothers' own present.
Jesus' own miracles hit here.... Jesus performed miracles as signs, as non-verbal parables. They were signs of the overcoming of all alienation of human life from itself, including those alienations we clumsily call "physical." As acted-out signs, the miracles were also instances of the immediacy of the Kingdom. Jesus did not, for example, merely promise to the leper, a permanent outsider because of repulsive and contagious skin disease... that in God's Kingdom he would be accepted; he then and there made the leper so.
In that he interpreted his fellow's lives by God's future rather than by their own pasts, Jesus interpreted his own life by that same future. The outcome of his own life would be the fulfillment 0r failure of the promise he brought. And in that he promised the Kingdom to all comers, he bet his life on the final overcoming of all religious and social distinctions. In that he called publicans and sinners to be his brothers at table, his table became a table of publicans and sinners (and he seems to have acquired a reputation for as a glutton and a drinker)....
Moreover, his interpretation of his own life in terms of the promise he had for his fellows was total. He retained no escape lines back into respectability, or even into an inner secure position with God; "My God,"he would finally say, "why have you forsaken me?" The community in and by which he interpreted his life for himself and before his Father, was the brotherhood of the unconditionally promised fulfillment, the brotherhood of the oppressed, the declasse, and the wicked. He so appropriated the persons and circumstances of his life that if the promise of the Kingdom failed, his life would have no value; and that if the promise did not bring hope for the publicans, neither could there be hope for him.
...And therefore Jesus interpreted his own words and miracle as the present anticipation of the future Kingdom. "If I am casting out devils by God's power, then his Kingdom has reached you." This did not mean that the Kingdom had "started," or that a little of it was there from which more would "grow." The kingdom was present with Jesus as promise, as word and meaningful action; and as the unconditional promise which abolished all space of controllable between itself and its fulfillment.
(Robert Jenson, Story and Promise, pp. 39-41)
When Jesus stands before his hearers and utters those words "Have no fear, it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom," Jesus is the reality of that promise. As such he relates to us in the fulfillment of that promise, in the reality of the Kingdom.

It does then create some immediacy for our hearers on Sunday to think about the fact that the Father's good pleasure is not just rooted in the life everlasting, but in the here and now for Jesus still comes to us and for us. Jesus, as Shepherd King, is not at all divisible from the Kingdom which is at hand. We can see the promise and the fulfillment together. And as Lose points out, the promise creates faith and hope, which transform us and our world.

1 comment:

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